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Thursday, September 23, 2010
Oregon State ready for blue turf, but what about Boise?

By Ted Miller

The blue turf is always a story. It's, er, different. But how much would anyone care if Boise State hadn't won 56 consecutive regular-season games on it? "College GameDay" wouldn't be setting up shop in front of Bronco Stadium on Saturday unless the team that plays on so-called Smurf Turf was really, really good. As in "No. 3 in the nation and might play for the national title" good.

A home-field advantage? Absolutely. Bronco Stadium ain't big -- capacity is officially 33,500 -- but it's darn loud. Still, Boise State beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl on green turf, and it beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl in January on green turf, and the Broncos got the same positive result a few weeks back against Virginia Tech on green turf. Those last two victories were part of a 16-game winning streak, nine of which came on boring, ol' green grass.

The turf is blue, but the team is what leaves nearly every opponent green with envy. Or is it seeing red?

Oregon State practice field
The Beavers practiced on a blue field to prepare for playing at Bronco Stadium.
"They're darn good," said Oregon State coach Mike Riley, whose 24th-ranked squad will try to end the Broncos' home winning streak on Saturday. "They've got good players and they are extremely well coached. That's the biggest factor."

Nonetheless, Oregon State this week went to great lengths to give its players a feel for seeing blue underfoot. The school painted a practice field "reflex" blue and then dressed its scout team in the same color.

Riley said the decision was based as much on "fun" as strategy. And the Beavers' players don't seem to be too taken by the notion of a blue-turf mystique.

"The turf is blue and their jerseys are blue, but there’s 11 guys over there," linebacker Dwight Roberson said. "I don’t feel like the blue turf has to do with anything. It’s a field; you play football on it. For me, it’s nothing different than playing any other football game.”

More than a few coaches whose teams have struggled inside Bronco Stadium, however, have observed that the blue-on-blue effect does provide a competitive advantage, a notion Riley shares. His team was a victim during the winning streak, falling 42-14 in 2006 after jumping to an early 14-0 lead.

"I think it is an advantage for sure," he said. "Even watching them on film, it's hard to get numbers. It all blends together."

Boise State, a veteran group that welcomed back 22 of 24 starters from last year's unbeaten team, plays with such precision opponents can't afford to lose track of players morphing into the playing surface. So there's method to the madness of a blue practice field.

But the bigger issue is slowing down junior quarterback Kellen Moore, whose extraordinary efficiency has transformed him from lightly regarded recruit ignored by the Pac-10 into a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. His offensive line has yielded just one sack, and the Beavers' pass rush has been limp in the early going, recording just two sacks in two games.

Moore has shown little inclination to get rattled by pressure. The three-year starter has thrown just 14 interceptions in three seasons, 10 of which came as a freshman.

"This guy is the best at extending the play a little bit by moving in the pocket," Riley said. "He doesn't get sacked. It's beautiful quarterbacking."

Said cornerback James Dockery, "He just seems to make all the right decisions. He knows how to manage the game and win. He's a winner."

Ryan Katz
OSU quarterback Ryan Katz will be making his first true road start against the Broncos.
The Beavers will counter with sophomore Ryan Katz, who will be making his first "true" road start, considering the TCU game in Cowboys Stadium was considered a neutral field -- and, to be honest, was half-full and not terribly loud.

Katz has mostly avoided major mistakes (see four touchdown passes, no interceptions) but he's completing under 50 percent of his throws and is averaging just 151 yards passing per game. Yet Broncos coach Chris Petersen, who's 26-0 at home since taking over for Dan Hawkins in 2006, said he's been impressed with Katz on film.

"He's got some tremendous physical tools," he said. "He's going to be really, really good."

Katz's main assignment: Get the ball to the Rodgers brothers, running back Jacquizz and receiver James, and hope they find space in which to maneuver.

Boise State's defense held Virginia Tech to just 314 yards in its 33-30 victory. Meanwhile, its offense is averaging 516 per game, though much of that came in Game 2 against hapless Wyoming.

The Broncos are proficient and experienced on both sides of the ball. While some might dismiss them as a well-coached "system" team that thrives in a weak conference, Riley said he sees plenty of talent on game tape.

"Maybe they weren't five-star guys going in, but they're five-star guys going out," Riley said of Boise State's recruiting and development.

A college football nation will be divided on this one. Haters of the BCS system and fans of non-automatic qualifying programs -- though probably not TCU or Utah -- will be rooting hard for the Broncos. Fans from AQ conferences who want one fewer obstacle to the national title game or even a BCS bowl game will be rooting hard for the Beavers.

The Beavers absorbed the blue all week. To a man, they seem to think that the least of their worries is the color of the turf.

Said safety Lance Mitchell: "I think that’s more for 'GameDay' and the fans. We will practice on it, so if it helps us get prepared for it, that’s all good.”